Be honest – are you stretching after every workout? I certainly am guilty of neglecting to stretch more often than not. I am usually in a rush to get changed and drive off to take care of daily business. However, I regret it afterwards – I have tightness in my shoulders, back and I really wish I could do the splits. Stretching is an integral part of any workout programme. But there is more to stretching than just decreasing muscle shortening and increasing range of motion.
Stretching can be done before, during and after a workout. I want to focus here on the benefits of stretching post exercise. Mostly because it’s where I fall short myself and then pay for it afterwards by getting sore and stiff.
1 Muscle Repair
Stretching immediately after a workout helps to repair the muscles more quickly. It keeps the muscles loose and prevents shortening and tightening. This includes cramping after exercise when lactic acid builds up. The improved blood flow enables oxygen and nutrient flow to muscles and joints which starts the recovery process straight away.
Most of us lose flexibility with age. How many of us can comfortably squat like a toddler? Or do the splits or some other really cool yoga pose? Staying flexible is not only important as we age to prevent injury. Increasing the range of motion in a joint through stretching helps to decrease a muscle’s resistance when exercising.
3 Joint Health
Stretching is not only great for the muscle, but also the joints. The joints are surrounded by connective tissue and connected to muscles by tendons. Reducing stiffness in these areas decreases joint pressure. A flexible joint is more efficient and thereby improves performance, from everyday movements (picking something up from the floor, reaching behind you in the car) to specific exercises.
4 Better Posture
Stretching the chest and shoulders regularly improves the posture of most of us who tend to have a hunchback. Opening up the chest and bringing the shoulders down is important for standing and sitting straight.
5 Decrease Back Pain
Consistent with point 4, stretching the lower part of the body, the hamstrings, hip flexors and quads are important for a well aligned lower back. This reduces stress on the lumbar spine and as a result can prevent lower back pain.
An aspect that is often neglected in stretching is the opportunity to calm down – not only the body, but also the mind. While the heart rate goes down and your body relaxes, the mind gets a chance to wind down as well. To focus on the stretching muscles and your breathing brings peace to a racing mind and a sense of body awareness.
So, having shared that with you, I plan on taking my own advice and be more consistent with my stretching. I am never going to be Misty Copeland. But a flexible body just seems more graceful. What are your thoughts? What’s your stretching routine? Let me know how you are going and whether you enjoy stretching or not. I am always happy to hear from you.
1 Fit – Sport & Bien-Être, Les Idées reçues sur le stretching postural, Nov/Dec 2019